It’s a jungle out there… Volunteer Manager training at Basecamp and Jungle Camp

16th June 2015

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On Thursday morning, 33 volunteer managers arrived at Basecamp to begin several days of intense training. After just over an hour’s drive from Fieldbase, we turned off the main road and into a wide, grassy field just underneath the slopes of Sabah’s iconic Mount Kinabalu, its peak concealed behind rolling hills of mist above us.

Raleigh Borneo’s Basecamp is a beautiful space nestled next to the River Kiulu, made up of several bamboo huts for meeting and eating, facilities for washing, and rows of outdoor bashas - hammocks strung up between two trees under a tarpaulin cover used to sleep outdoors in the rainforest.

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It takes ten to tango

All the volunteer managers were separated into three tango groups, to spend the next two days with during training, mealtimes, and on trek. The tango groups rotated, taking part in a training sessions which would teach us the vital skills needed for living and working outdoors and in remote areas.

Starting out softly revising how to set up the radios, we then moved onto the harder material. Down by the river bank, rescue rope in tow, Tom and Phili led a session on assessing and crossing rivers safely. In groups of five we learnt how to shuffle slowly into the fast-streaming current, the person at the front probing the river bed with a long stick to check for dips and rocks, communicating at every step to make sure that all the group felt study and supported. Standing in the middle of the river facing upstream towards the mountains, you could really feel the strength of the water pushing against your legs. The immensity of the surrounding environment was impressive, a clear reminder that we were in an area of the world where human domination had (thankfully) not yet reached.  

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Back at the bamboo hut the logistics team handed over to each team a boxes of camping equipment and food to ration into our meals for the next two days. Over a lunch of crackers, tuna, cheese and coffee, we distributed the kit and the rest of the food around the team to carry into Jungle Camp, a trek away into the forest’s interior.

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The next morning local guides Floyd, Ryan, Ronny and Sharon gathered everybody together to teach us the basics of their extensive knowledge of Bornean camp craft. Using only a few meters of paracord, two sticks of bamboo held tight with non-slip knots, we learnt how to set up our basha and tarp, complete with a mosquito net for nighttime protection against the bugs and beasts. The guides also taught us how to use a parang (a Malaysian machete), and how to dig long drops and food pits to minimise human impact on the jungle habitat.

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Into the woods…

Like two-legged pack horses we loaded up with all the team equipment and food on our backs. Carrying long sheets of tarpaulin wrapped around bamboo to make a communal shelter, we trekked into the forest and made our slow, sweaty way to Jungle Camp. Entering the jungle you can immediately feel the intense heat and humidity underneath the canopy, and hear the loud buzzing of cicadas come and go in swelling waves like crowds of cheering football supporters. Our guide Ryan led the way, clearing the path of fallen bamboo cane and thorny branches. Dramatically, Carl was the first to go down with a leech attack, but it was quickly deflected using the ‘roll, pick, and flick’ technique favoured by the Raleigh permanent staff. We tried to walk at a steady pace, taking regular breaks to keep hydrated and take in our surroundings. After a particularly exhausting hike uphill, we reached a bend in the path and heard the gushing of a stream below. At the bottom of a steep, muddy slope, a clearing opened up. This, Ryan told us, was Jungle Camp.

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We had just up the communal tarpaulin in time for a torrential downpour of warm rain which lasted several hours. Straining to hear each other through the sound of hammering raindrops we set up our three-bowl system, got some water boiling, and scrambled through our backpacks to find the tea bags, powdered milk and biscuits. After the rain had stopped we were able to plan our next step and walk up to the site where we would be sleeping, choosing the sturdiest looking trees for our bashas and tarps. For dinner, eager to eat away as much of our rucksack weight as possible, we cooked up a beef curry with cannelloni beans and rice, then used leftover rice with condensed milk to create nothing less than an award-winning rice pudding topped with strawberry jam.

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Spending the night sleeping in the basha was a unique experience, being able to hear rainforest wildlife while lying in in your sleeping bag.

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‘Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’

The following morning was an early start. After a short swim/wash in the river and a porridge breakfast at 6.00am, we packed up our kit and the communal tarpaulin, and started the process of removing every trace of our presence in the jungle over the last 24 hours. We set about filling in the long drops and food pits and strapping all rubbish to our backpacks before heading out. 

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Entrance into to Basecamp felt like the stuff of champions, and we wearily clambered onto the bus to travel back to Fieldbase. 

Taking advantage of the opportunity to utilise the skills the local guides and the training sessions had taught us, as a group we had got some real experience of what the trekking phase with the venturers would entail. One short debrief and a long shower later (or was it the other way round?!), the volunteer managers felt ready to tackle the next step of preparation before the expeditions begin: visits to the project sites and meeting the project partners.

The next blog will add an exciting piece to the puzzle - the projects that expeditions 15D and 15I will be working on this summer, and the project managers allocated to each one.

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